A Universal Flu Vaccine?

An antibody that binds 16 different flu viruses offers hope for the long-sought universal vaccine.

Jul 28, 2011
Jef Akst


A newly discovered antibody may be the answer to seasonal flu vaccines. Sifting through more than 100,000 B cells from people that had been infected or immunized against various influenza strains, immunologist Antonio Lanzavecchia of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Bellinzona, Switzerland, and his colleagues found the first ever antibody that reacts to all 16 subtypes of the virus, including both group 1 and group 2 viruses, according to a study published yesterday in Science. The antibody binds to an interior stable region of the virus, Nature reports, and could serve as the basis of a universal vaccine that protects against the quickly evolving seasonal flu strains.

Though there are several steps before a single antibody is converted into a successful vaccine, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins thinks that such a vaccine may be available within the next 5 years. A universal flu vaccine "seemed completely out of reach only a few years ago," Collins told USA Today. But discoveries such as the one reported yesterday suggest that a solution to the complicated problem may be within reach. “If you designed a vaccine to go after the constant part of the virus, you'd be protected against all strains," Collins said.